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FALL 2000 







"Where Women Are Empowered" 

A Project Of 

The Women's Leadership Institute 

with funding from 

The North Carolina Humanities Council 



^>!f K 





< t 


Dedicated to Willa Beatrice Player 

for having the courage to say 

'Bennett College is a liberal arts college where 

freedom rings. So Martin Luther King, Jr. 

can speak here." 

Edited by" .^y 

Lea E. Williams, Ed.D. 

Executive Director 

Women's Leadership Institute 

Copyright © 2000 by Bennett College 

Table of Contents 

Acknowledgements v 

Letter from the President vii 

Introduction xi 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 
"Room in the Inn" 
February 11, 1958 

C. Eric Lincoln 25 

"Come Back, Martin Luther King" 
January 18, 1981 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hil 


We gratefully acknowledge Johnson 
Adefila, Ph.D., associate professor 
and coordinator of the Historv' 
Program, and Linda Beatrice Brown, Ph.D., 
Willa B. Player Distinguished Professor of 
Humanities, for reading and commenting on the 
manuscript. We also thank Paula Quick Hall, 
Ph.D., former associate professor and chair of 
the Political Science Department, and Violet 
Baffour, a political science major, Class of '00, 
for reviewing various speeches and offering 
critical comments. In addition, we appreciate the 
assistance of past and present staff of the Holgate 
Library, who searched the archives for speeches 
and related materials. This publication was made 
possible by a grant from the North Carolina 
Humanities Council. We thank the council for 
its support. 

Founders Day Vesper 
October 15, 2000 

Dear Reader: 

We proudly present the second volume of The Bennett College Social 
Justice Lecture Series. The initial volume grew out of the sixtieth-year 
celebration of the 1937 student-led boycott of movie theaters in 
downtown Greensboro . The highlight of this volume is the speech given 
by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Annie Merner Pfeiffer Chapel on 
February 11,1 958 , a few months after he led the successful Montgomery 
bus boycott. 

Dr. King's visit to Greensboro was very controversial. Even though King 
preached nonviolence and practiced passive resistance, many 
conservatives in the community viewed him as a rabble-rouser. His 
anticipated presence occasioned irrational fear and suspicion in some 
quarters. While the African American community eagerly awaited his 
coming, there was concern about the heightened racial tensions. And so, 
as the date drew near, it proved difficult to secure a place to hold the mass 
meeting at which Dr. King would speak. 

Into this vaaelstrom of controversy stepped Dr. Willa Beatrice Player, the 
president and first female leader of Bennett College. Dr. Player invited 
Martin Luther King to speak on our campus. This courageous act was a 

glorious moment in the history of Bennett College, an institution that 
prides itself on activism in pursuit of social justice . Dr. Player lengthened 
the long shadow of social activism and burnished further the legacy of "a 
liberal arts college where freedom rings." Fortunately for succeeding 
generations, the King speech was captured on reel-to-reel tape and has 
been re-recorded on cassette. 

Some twenty 'three years after l^artin Luther Kings visit to Bennett, C. 
Eric Lincoln, a professor at Duke University, spoke at the college. 
Lincoln, a renowned scholar of black religious life who died earlier this 
year, echoed many of the social justice themes so familiar to Dr. Kings 
audience. Standing in the place where Martin Luther King stood, Lincoln 
wondered whether two centuries after the founding of our nation, "we[,] 
who now stand trembling in the room they left[,] search frantically for 
some clue that the legacy bequeathed to us is possible." Another twenty 
years have passed since Lincoln's speech, and the search for justice and 
equality goes oil. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. and C. Eric Lincoln leave us with many 
unanswered questions, but also with a legacy of brilliant discourse that 
continues to inspire us in our search for answers. 


iloria R. Scott, Ph.D. 


"S^^d^ ~'ir""^.*eS23.^* JiJAS:;^^!'?" 


y jW Montgomery' bus boycott ended, an overflow crowd 

^ ^1^, ^^ poured into Annie Memer Pfeiffer Chapel on the 

campus of Bennett College to welcome Dr. Martm Luther King, 

Jr. (1929-1968). 

For those who believe in freedom, Martin Luther King's was one 
of the most eloquent voices for civil rights and social justice in 
the twentieth century. Having led a successful boycott to 
desegregate the city buses. King focused national attention on a 
social protest movement based on passive resistance and 
nonviolence. For many, King symbolized that movement. Yet, 
on that February evening in Greensboro, King reminded the 
enthralled audience that, "Martin Luther King would not even 
be mentioned in history if there had not been a Rosa Parks and 
50,000 humble people who had the courage to stand up and 
who said in their hearts that we've had enough." 

In that period of our nation's history, African Americans who dared 
to advocate for their constitutionally guaranteed rights risked harsh 
reprisals, often with deadly consequences. Well into the twentieth 
century, blacks were still being lynched at the hands of Ku Klux 
Klansmen and vigilante mobs. But, in 1954 blacks gained a victory 
for desegregation when the Supreme Court in its unanimous 
decision (Brown v. Board of Education) dismantled the dual public 
school system in the South. At the time, it seemed that well- 
targeted lawsuits, combined with carefully executed direct-action 
campaigns, would provide the thin wedge that blacks could use to 
pry open the door of equality. 

In the mid-50s large cracks began appearing in the mask of quiet 
resignation and passive acceptance blacks wore to hide the 
resentment they felt against the petty slights and daily humiliations 
of life as second-class citizens. There was a mounting determination 
to rebel against the status quo. The lines from Paul Laurence 
Dunbar's well-known poem, "We wear the mask that grins and lies, 
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes," captured the tired charade 
blacks were no longer willing to play. It was this undercurrent of 
discontent that finally erupted and mobilized blacks. 

Fannie Lou Hamer expressed the sentiments of many blacks when 
she said in her eloquently colloquial way: "I knew things was bad 
wrong and I used to think, 'Let me have a chance, and whatever this 
is that's wrong in Mississippi, I'm gonna do some thin' about it.' "' 
Rosa Park's refusal to give up her seat to a white man was the spark 
that ignited black and white determination to do something about 
it. The movement that resulted gave Fannie Lou Hamer her voice 
and nurtured Martin Luther King, Jr. into greatness. 

King's invitation to visit Greensboro came from local leaders of the 
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 
Edward Edmonds, president of the local NAACP chapter, had 
fought to desegregate the city's public schools. Cone Hospital, and 

the all-white city swimming pool. For his troubles, the Klan burned 
a cross at his home on the campus of Bennett College where he 
taught sociology. In addition, Edmonds, who was also a Methodist 
minister, was dismissed as director of the Wesley Foundation at 
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. 
According to Dr. Edmonds, Warmoth Gibbs, president of the 
university, fired him because his activism was too controversial." 
Later, however, Gibbs surprised his white superiors by refusing to 
rein in A&T students participating in the lunch counter sit-ins in 
downtown Greensboro. 

Dr. King's visit was almost called oft because a venue proved diffi- 
cult to find. Fearing economic reprisals from white officials, admin- 
istrators at North Carolina A&T and the black public schools were 
understandably reluctant to host him. Although local black church- 
es did not depend on the white community for financial support, 
church leaders would certainly want to avoid alienating city leaders. 
Any decision that would impact the church or its congregation, 
even indirectly, had to be carefully weighed. Apparently, the weight 
of that decision stalled the ministers. 

While Greensboro's church leaders hesitated, Willa Beatrice Player, 
then two years into her presidency at Bennett College, offered the 
Annie Memer Pfeiffer Chapel. King's visit, about to be cancelled, 
was rescued. In order to accommodate the throngs anticipated, the 
college wired sound to the Little Theatre and other buildings. As 
expected, every seat was taken. 

Hosting Dr. King was a risky business even though Bennett College 
was a private institution. After all, the college benefited from the 
goodwill and largess of white philanthropists. The names of 
prominent families inscribed on campus buildings - for example, 
Annie Memer Pfeiffer Chapel, Barge Hall, and Reynolds Hall - 
attested to the sustained generosity of that support. Lyman Bennett, 
the college's first benefactor and namesake, gave the first ten 

thousand dollars toward the purchase of land for the college and to 
erect a building that housed the classrooms; it also served as a 
dormitory. These benefactors were subject to community pressures 
even when they, like Lyman Bennett, were not residents of the area. 

Viewed in the context of the late 1950s, when the strictures and 
prejudices of the post-Reconstruction South still prevailed, Dr. 
Player's offer of the Bennett chapel was certainly a courageous act 
and marked a memorable event in the life of the college. Reflecting 
over her presidency in a 1993 interview. Dr. Player stated that the 
King visit was one of the high points of her career at Bennett."* 

The black community in Greensboro was eager to hear Dr. King's 
message. Here in the flesh was the young man who had galvanized 
the black community to challenge the white power structure in one 
of the most virulently racist states in the South. Who was this man 
who so quickly ascended to prominence? 

Martin Luther King's roots were in the South. Born to a middle- 
class family in Atlanta, Georgia, King early on was nudged by his 
father toward the ministry. His education at Morehouse College, 
Crozer Theological Seminary, and Boston University introduced 
him to the teachings of the great philosophers and pacifists of 
western culture - Hegel, Thoreau, Kant, Niebuhr, Tillich, and 
Gandhi, among others. In his youth, he had rejected the 
emotionalism of the Baptist church; thus, the writings of these 
intellectuals appealed to him and profoundly influenced his 

Later, during the long days of the Montgomery bus boycott, his 
Christian faith deepened. King recounted the moment that gave 
him the courage he would need. One night sitting in the kitchen of 
his home, feeling despondent and confounded by doubts about the 
boycott and his leadership of it. King was at the end of his wits. He 
recalled pleading in his heart for guidance and direction. It seemed 

at that moment there came into the kitchen "the presence of the 
divine," telhng him to "stand up for righteousness, stand up for 
truth; and God will be at your side forever."' 

This story, whether true or apocryphal, speaks to the origins of 
King's faith, a faith that allowed him to lose himself in the struggle 
and that sustained him through many difficult moments. Lerone 
Bennett, the historian and Ebony magazine journalist, said in his 
biography of King, that the Montgomery movement, "changed the 
spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., and King, thus transformed, helped 
to change the face and the heart of the Negro, of the white man, 
and of America."" 

King would make many memorable and great speeches in the 
decade after his visit to Bennett College: "I Have a Dream" (1963); 
"Our God Is Marching Onl (1965); "The Drum Major Instinct" 
(1968), and "I See the Promised Land" (1968).' What we hear m 
King's 1958 speech, however, is the nascent beginnings of his 
oratorical greatness. The speech echoed many of the themes that 
would reverberate in his public speaking throughout the next and, 
sadly, the last decade of his life. He would perfect his deliver^', using 
the rich timbre and familiar cadences of the black Baptist preaching 
tradition, a tradition that he inherited from his father and maternal 

As with all great orations, the spoken word is so much more 
powerful and compelling than any transcription, and so it is with 
this speech by Martin Luther King. On the printed page, the 
resonance of Dr. King's stentorian voice is lost to the reader. Yet, the 
historical significance of the speech is retained. It is significant 
because it represents a point on the continuum of King's progression 
from a relative neophyte on the national scene to a revered orator 
of great stature. 

At Bennett College, King spoke for nearly an hour on the theme of 
changing race relations in the South and the efficacy of nonviolent 
resistance. Characteristically, he used this occasion to teach as well 
as to inspire. In the early days of the movement, most audiences 
were unfamiliar with the philosophical tenets of nonviolent 
resistance. Once the concept was understood, many were still, quite 
frankly, skeptical about its applicability and effectiveness. The 
debate about the best methods to use would continue throughout 
the movement. 

However, in the Bennett chapel. King spoke to an audience on the 
cusp of a revolution. This triumphant young minister, who 
preached Judeo-Christian precepts and embraced a nonviolent, 
pacifist ideology, had come straight from the front lines of black 
civil disobedience. His listeners that night yearned to be inspired 
because the kind of bold resistance demonstrated in Montgomery, 
Alabama, was also simmering in Greensboro, as it was throughout 
the South. Thus, King's message was manna for the soul. 

On that Tuesday evening, King's was an ascending star. The 
miscalculation of trying to transport southern strategies to northern 
cities where racial discrimination assumed a more subtly 
sophisticated form was some years away, as were the suspicions and 
uncertainties engendered by King's opposition to the war in 
Vietnam and espousal of the causes of poor people. Also at bay was 
exposure of the moral ambiguities between the public man and the 
private self as revealed by Federal Bureau of Investigation wiretaps 
of King's sexual dalliances. King had yet to shoulder these crosses. 
This was the dawn of breaking day with its hopeful promises and 
infinite possibilities. 

The seeds sown that night would germinate in fertile soil as 
Greensboro activists chipped away at the walls of segregation. On 
February 1, 1960, two years after King's visit, Ezell Blair, Jr., 
Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond sat down 

at the all-white lunch counter in the Woolworth's on Elm and 
Sycamore streets in downtown Greensboro and politely ordered 
lunch. They were refused service, but the sit-in movement had 
begun in the South, and it spread rapidly to other southern cities. In 
March, at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, students 
formalized their voice in the movement by establishing the Student 
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. A few months later, on July 
25, the first blacks ate at the Woolworth's lunch counter in 

The 1960s witnessed the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting 
Rights bills, which dismantled the last vestiges oi legalized 
segregation. A movement that began on a bus in Montgomery- had 
been heard in the halls of Congress and around the world. The 
moral conscience of that movement, and one ot its most 
impassioned voices, was Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Two decades after King's visit to Greensboro, C. Eric Lincoln (1925- 
2000), a prolific scholar and professor of religion and culture at 
Duke University, spoke from the same podium. In his speech, 
"Come Back, Martin Luther King," Lincoln laments the slow pace 
of improving race relations and longs for his friend's presence "to 
bring us together again and to revive us in the continuing struggle 
toward the realization of what he dreamed about." 

Lincoln's speech, included here, makes it painfully clear how deeply 
entrenched, pervasive and intractable racial issues were, and are, in 
America. The message Lincoln delivered, a quarter century after the 
Montgomery bus boycott, acknowledged that discrimination and 
prejudices refused to yield to reason, to the pressures of mass resist- 
ance, or to legislative mandates. In frustration, Lincoln cries out in 
a self-composed poem at the end of his speech: "When shall we 
overcome? When shall we overcome?" 

A son of the South and a friend of Martin Luther King, C. Eric 
Lincoln grew up in humble circumstances in Athens, Alabama. He 
worked his way through college and earned undergraduate degrees 
from LeMoyne College, now LeMoyne-Owen College, in Memphis, 
Tennessee, and the University of Chicago. Added to these were 
graduate degrees from Fisk University and Boston University 
(M.Ed, and Ph.D.); the latter was also King's alma mater. A bach- 
elor's degree in divinity from the University of Chicago defined 
Lincoln's lifelong passion for religious studies. Recognized as one of 
the nation's foremost scholars of the black church, Lincoln was a 
prolific writer. He authored, co-authored or edited twenty-two 
books. Among his best-known books are The Black Muslims in 
America (1961) and The Black Church in the African- American 
Experience (1990). Firmly rooted in black culture and traditions, 
Lincoln began his teaching career at Clark College, now Clark 
Atlanta University, in Atlanta, a historically black college, and 
later held a faculty position at Fisk University, another black insti- 
tution. He also taught at Brown University, Union Theological 
Seminary, Vassar College, and Columbia University, among others. 
Dr. Lincoln retired from Duke University as the William Rand 
Kenan Jr. Professor Emeritus of Religion and Culture. 

Well past the height of the civil rights movement, in 1981 when 
Lincoln addressed a new generation of Bennett College students, he 
reminded his audience about the black experience in America. Just 
as Martin Luther King had done before him, C. Eric Lincoln trans- 
formed the chapel into a teaching platform and a classroom for 
learning. Both King and Lincoln followed in the lineage of chapel 
speakers throughout the decades whose messages had hammered 
home the importance of social and political activism and urged stu- 
dents to engage these issues. 

Of course the message to black Americans that we must cultivate 
and retain a strong social consciousness is ages old. In his classic 
study of race in America, first published in 1903 and titled The Souls 

of Black Folk, the distinguished historian, scholar and fighter for 
black equality, W. E. B. Du Bois, proclaimed that, "the problem of 
the Twentieth Ceiitury is the problem of the color line." Martin 
Luther King, Jr. and C. Eric Lincoln took up that cause in their day. 
It rests with succeeding generations to continue to struggle with the 
freighted and peculiarly complex dilemma of black/white race rela- 
tions in America. Fortunately, we have the wise words of King and 
Lincoln to inspire us along the way. 

Lea E. Williams 

'Lea E. Williams, Servants of the People: The 1960s Legacy of African American Leadership (New 
York: St. Martin's Press, 1998), p. 159. 

'William H. Chafe, Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle 
for Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981). 

Williams, Servants of the People. 

■"Linda Beatrice Brown, The Long Walk: The Story of the Presidency of Willa B. Player at Bennett 
College (Danville, Virginia: McCain Printing Company, Inc., 1998), p. 166. 

'David Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership 
Conference (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1986). 

''Lerone Bennett, "When the Man and the Hour Are Met," in C. Eric Lincoln, ed., Martin 
Luther King, Jr.: A Profile, 1970, p. 12. 

'James Melvin Washington, ed., / Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches that Changed the World, 
Martin Luther King, Jr. (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1992). 

W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: New American Library, 1969), xi. 


Mtirrin Luther King, Jr. 

Pastor, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Akihama 

Delivered at the Annie Merner Pjeiffer Chapel 

Bennett College 

February I J, 1958 

Ir. [Edward] Edmonds [professor of sociology at Bennett 
'College and president oi the Greensboro Chapter ot the 
NAACP], Dr. [Charles] Anderson [pastor of Institutional 
Baptist Church], members of the Greensboro branch of the 
National Association for the Advancement ot Colored People, 
ladies, and gentlemen. It is certainly a delightful pleasure for me to 
be in the city of Greensboro and to be able to share with you in the 
program this evening. I'm ver\- happy to share the platform with 
these very distinguished ministers and educators. I'm grateful to my 
friend, Rev. Anderson, for those ver^' kind words. And I'm grateful 
to Dr. Edmonds, the president of the branch here, for extending the 
invitation for me to be here. I'm grateful to him for the courageous 
work that he is doing in this community. And the courageous work 
that he is doing tor the cause of justice and human dignity. 

I'm very happy to bring greetings to you this evening from 
Montgomery, Alabama, a city in a state that is known as the Heart 
of Dixie. And of course, we're all aware of the fact that Dixie has a 
little heart trouble at this time. But the physicians are at work, 
seeking to cure this heart condition. And I want you to know that 
the people of Montgomery, the Negro citizens of that city, are 
deeply grateful to you and to all people of good will, to persons all 
over this world, who aided them in the struggle for justice. As we 
walked the streets of Montgomery, we realized that we were not 
walking alone, but that hundreds and thousands ot people of good 
will walked with us. And above all, God walked with us. 

Never forget that the Montgomery story is not a story, it's not a 
drama with only one actor. But it's a drama with 50,000 actors, each 
playing his part amazingly well. And I hope you will never forget 
the humble people of that community. You hear a great deal, I 
imagine, about a fellow by the name of Martin Luther King. You'll 
occasionally read his name, and you see his picture here and there. 
But Martin Luther King would not even be mentioned in history if 
there had not been a Rosa Parks and 50,000 humble people who had 
the courage to stand up and who said in their hearts that we've had 
enough. And who somehow came to see that it is ultimately more 
honorable to walk in dignity than ride in humiliation, and decided 
to substitute tired feet for tired souls, and walked the streets of 
Montgomery until the surging walls, the sagging walls of bus 
segregation were finally crushed by the battering rams of the forces 
of justice. 

I was in the Los Angeles airport a few days ago, and we had a little 
delay, a slight plane delay. The plane had to be serviced. And I was 
standing out near the gate, and it so happened that a man was 
standing next to me that worked for one of the airlines. In a few 
minutes, we noticed several men running out to that plane. They 
started carrying out various functions. Most of them were in 
overalls. You could hardly see the color of the overalls, because they 

"Room in the Inn' 

were greasy and dirty overalls. And that man looked over to me, 
and he said, "You know, before that plane can take off, about 
twenty-one men have to work on it. They have various functions, 
and they do various jobs, but it can't go until those men get to work 
and do their jobs." And I looked at them. They were doing various 
things, various things. 

Then he turned back to me and said, "That group is called the 
ground crew." And I started thmkmg that pretty soon that plane 
would take off and lift itselt possibly above the clouds, and move on 
down, passing the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado, and on down 
through the various states, and it would take me successfully home. 
And 1 thought about the tact that we hear a great deal about the 
pilot and the engineer and the copilot. But we must never forget 
that that plane couldn't make its journey without the ground crew. 
And the same thing applies in this area of freedom. As we take out 
on this mighty flight of freedom, let us never forget the ground crew. 
The ground crew. The people who don't make the headlines. The 
people who make it possible for the pilot to do his job. Let us never 
forget the ground crew. And I bring you greetings trom the humble 
people, the ground crew, of Montgomery, Alabama. 

But I'm not here this evening to talk about Montgomery. You've 
heard a lot about Montgomery, and I've spoken a great deal across 
the country' on the Montgomery stor\- and other ministers from 
Montgomery' and other citizens of that city. So I'm not going to 
burden you with the Montgomery story^ This evening I want to try 
to answer a question, a desperate question, a poignant question, that 
seems to be on the lips oi people all over this nation. They are 
disturbed and they're wondering whether there has been any real 
progress in the area of race relations. And I hope I can give some 
insights on that question. 1 certainly can't answer the whole 
question. 1 can only make a few suggestions here and there. In 
accordance, you will have to draw your [own] conclusions. 

It seems to me that there are three basic attitudes that one can take 
toward the question of progress in the area of race relations. The 
first is that of extreme optimism. You know, optimism is a view that 
looks on the bright side of things. An extreme optimist would argue 
that we have come a long, long way in the area of race relations. He 
would point proudly to the strides that have been made in the area 
of civil rights over the past few decades. And thus, he would 
conclude that the problem is just about solved now, and that we can 
sit down comfortably by the wayside and wait on the coming of the 

The second view that can be taken is that of extreme pessimism, 
and you know, pessimism is a view that looks on the dark side of 
things. And so the pessimist in the area of race relations would say 
that we've made only minor strides. He would argue that the deep 
rumblings of discontent from the South are indicative of the fact 
that we have created many more problems than we have solved. He 
would say that we are going backwards instead of forwards. He 
might even get a little intellectual and seek to show that hovering 
over every man is the tragic taint of original sin, and so at bottom, 
human nature cannot be changed. He may even turn to the realms 
of psychology and seek to show the inflexibility of certain attitudes 
once they have been molded. From all of this, the pessimist would 
conclude that there can be no progress in the area of race relations. 

Now I want you to notice one thing here: That the extreme 
optimist and the extreme pessimist agree on at least one point. They 
both agree that we must sit down and do nothing in the area of race 
relations. The extreme optimist says do nothing because integration 
is inevitable. The extreme pessimist says do nothing because 
integration is impossible. 

But there is a third position, that is, a third attitude that one can 
take in this area. Namely, the realistic position. The realist in the 
area of race relations seeks to combine the truths of two opposites, 

"Room in the Inn" 

while avoiding the extremes of both. So the reaUst would agree 
with the optimist that we have come a long, long way, but he would 
go on to balance that by agreeing with the pessimist that we have a 
long, long way to go. And it is this realistic position that I would 
like to use as a basis of our thinking together this evening on the 
question of progress in race relations. We've come a long, long way, 
but we have a long, long way to go. 

Let us notice first that we've come a long, long way, and I would like 
to say first under that particular heading that the Negro himself has 
come a long, long way in reevaluating his own intrinsic worth. In 
order to illustrate this, a little history is necessary. You will 
remember that it was in the year of 1619 that the first slaves landed 
on the shores of this nation. And they were brought here from the 
soils of Africa. Unlike the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth a year 
later, they were brought here against their wills. Throughout 
slavery, the Negro was treated in a very inhuman fashion. He was a 
thing to be used, not a person to be respected. He was just 
something of a depersonalized cog in a vast plantation machine. 
The famous Dred Scott decision of 1857 well illustrates the status 
of the Negro during slavery, where in this decision the Supreme 
Court of the nation said the Negro is not a citizen of this nation; he 
is merely property, subject to the dictates of his owner. And this was 
the attitude that prevailed. Living under these conditions, many 
Negroes lost faith in themselves. Many came to feel that perhaps 
they were inferior. So long as the Negro accepted this place 
assigned to him, a sort of racial peace was maintained. But it was a 
negative peace. It was not true peace. For as I've said on many 
occasions, true peace is not merely the absence of some negative 
force. It is the presence of some positive force. 

One of the white citizens of our community in Montgomery was 
talking with me the other day, and he said, "Brother King, the only 
thing that hurts me and that concerns me is the fact that for so 
many years, we had such peaceful race relations in Montgomery. 

We had so much harmony and peace in race relations, and now you 
people have come to upset the peace." I thought about it, and I 
tried to talk with him sympathetically, calmly. I looked at him and 
said, "Well, I guess you're right. We did have peaceful race relations 
in Montgomery. But it was a negative peace, in which the Negro 
patiently accepted injustice and exploitation and never protested 
against it. But we never had real peace in Montgomery. We never 
had a positive peace. We had a negative peace, which was merely 
the absence of tension, but true peace is the presence of justice and 

One day Jesus stood before a group of men of his generation, and I 
can imagine that they stood before the Master with that glittering 
eye, wanting to hear some good. And Jesus looked at them and said 
in no uncertain terms, "I come not to bring peace but a sword." 
Jesus didn't mean he came to bring a physical sword. Neither did he 
mean he did not come to bring true peace. But what Jesus was 
saying was this: That I come not to bring this old negative peace, 
which makes for deadening passivity and stagnant complacency. I 
come to bring positive peace, and whenever I come, a conflict is 
precipitated between the old and the new. Whenever I come, a 
division sets in between justice and injustice. Whenever I come, 
something happens between the forces of light and the forces of 
darkness. 1 come not to bring this old negative peace, which is 
merely the absence of tension, but I come to bring a positive peace, 
which is the presence of love and brotherhood and the kingdom of 
God. And the peace which Jesus talks about is always a positive 

So the peace which existed at this particular time in our nation was 
a negative peace devoid of any positive means. Then as the years 
unfolded, something happened to the Negro. Circumstances made 
it necessary for him to travel more. His rural plantation background 
gradually gave way to urban industrial life. His cultural life was 
gradually rising through the steady decline of crippling illiteracy, 

"Room m the Inn' 

and even his economic life was rising through the growth of 
industry and the power of organized lahor and other agencies. 

All of these forces conjoined to cause the Negro to take a new look 
at himself. Negro masses all over began to reevaluate themselves, 
and the Negro came to feel that he was somebody. His religion 
revealed to him that God loves all of his children, and that all men 
are made in his image. He came to see that every man, from a base 
black to a treble white is significant on God's keyboard. And so he 
could not unconsciously cry out with the eloquent poet, "Fleecy 
locks and black complexion cannot forfeit nature's claim. Skin may 
differ, but affection dwells in black and white the same. Where I so 
tall as to reach the pole, or to grasp the ocean at its span, 1 must be 
measured by my soul. The mind is the standard of the man." 

And with this new sense of dignity and this new self-respect, a new 
Negro came into being. And the tensions which we witness in the 
South today can be explained in part by the revolutionary change 
in the Negro's evaluation of his nation and destiny. And his 
determination to struggle, sacrifice, yes, and even die if necessary, 
until the walls of segregation have been totally crushed. 

This is the meaning, and a part of the meaning of the struggle. 
We've come a long, long way since 1619. Not only has the Negro 
come a long, long way in reevaluating his own intrinsic worth. 
We've come a long, long way in achieving civil rights, and if we are 
to be true to the facts, we must admit that. Fifty years ago, twenty- 
five years ago, a year hardly passed that numerous Negroes were not 
brutally lynched by some vicious mob. Lynchings have about ceased 
today. We've come a long, long way. 

Fifty years ago, or twenty-five years ago, most of the southern states 
had a way of preventing the Negro from becoming a registered voter 
through the poll tax. Now the poll tax has been eliminated in all 
but four states. We've come a long, long way. Even in achieving the 

ballot, we've come a long, long way, and have a long, long way to 
go, but we've come a long, long way. At the turn of the century, 
there were not many Negro registered voters in the South. By 1948, 
that number had leaped to 750,000. By 1952, that number had 
leaped to 1,300,000. We've come a long, long way. Even in 
economic development, we've come a long, long way, and so today, 
the average Negro wage earner makes more, four times more, than 
the average Negro wage earner in 1940. The national income of the 
Negro now is more than sixteen billion dollars a year, more than the 
national income of Canada and more than all of the exports of the 
United States. We've come a long, long way. 

Not only that. In our generation, we've been able to see the walls 
of segregation gradually crumble. Many years ago, we were taken 
away into an Egypt of segregation. And it looked like we would 
never get out. We were carried there in 1896. The Supreme Court 
of this nation in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision established the 
doctrine of separate-but-equal as the law of the land, and here we 
were caught up in the Egypt of segregation. And every time we tried 
to get out, something prevented us. There was always a Moses 
crying out in loud and noble terms, "Let our people go." In the 
midst of the cry of every Moses, there was a Pharaoh with a 
hardened heart, saying, "I will not let these people go." There was 
a Red Sea standing before us with discredited [sic] dimensions, and 
it looked like we would never get out of Egypt. God always controls 
history. He's never asleep on the job. He works at every moment in 
history. And there is something about the God that we worship that 
can open the Red Sea. And so there came May 17, 1954, and by the 
providence of God and the decision from the Supreme Court, the 
Red Sea opened, and we were able to get out of Egypt. 

Now we aren't in the Promised Land yet. There are Philistines and 
Horites and Hittites still ahead to be defeated, but at least we've 
conquered Egypt. We've broken loose from the Egypt of 
segregation, and we're moving through the wilderness of 

"Room m the Inn" 

adjustment towards the Promised Land of integration. And we're 
going to get in. Now I know that sometimes it looks difficult, and 
they're people who are saying we'll never get in. They're the 
pessimists. And they come hack to us and they say, "Now, you know, 
there are giants over there in that land." And there are many giants 
there, giants of vested interests, giants of irrational emotionalism, 
giants of economic power structures. But thank God, Caleb and 
Joshua have been over, and they have come back with a minority 
report, and they tell us that we can possess the land. And this 
evening we stand in this moment of our nation's history, facing the 
fact that we've come a long, long way since 1! 

Now, my friends, I would like to stop here. I really would. This is a 
good place to stop. I like to make short speeches. I was telling 
somebody yesterday that I'm getting more and more like my good 
friend. Dr. Mordecai Johnson. I get to the place where 1 can speak 
an hour and a half and two hours. But 1 like to make short speeches. 
And I would really like to stop here. I would really love. ..this would 
be a wonderful place to stop. It would be a great place to stop. But 
I'm afraid that if 1 stop here, I wouldn't be telling the truth. I'd be 
stating a fact. You see, a fact is merely the absence of contradiction. 
The truth is the presence of coherence. It is the relatedness of facts. 
You see, it's a fact that we've come a long, long way. That's a fact, 
but it isn't the truth. See, in order to tell the truth, you've got to go 
on and put the other part to it. If I stopped at this point, I would 
leave you the victims of a dangerous optimism. If I stopped at this 
point, I would leave you the victims oi an illusion wrapped in 
superficiality, so in order to tell the truth I must move on, and say 
to you that we've not only come a long, long way... hut we have a 
long, long way to go. 

And I will not take the time this evening to go into all of the 
problems which we confront. Just to make a general statement to 
assure you that we have a long, long way to go. I mentioned the fact 
that lynchings have about ceased in our nation, but other things are 

happening, just as bad. Oh, we must think of the fact that many 
states in our own Southland have risen up in open defiance of the 
Supreme Court's decision on desegregation. The legislative halls of 
the South ring loud with such words as "interposition" and 
"nullification." Not only that. We see existing in our nation many 
tones and many instances of physical violence. We see in the 
Southland little children who, merely seek[ing] an equal education, 
are often beaten and often slapped and often kicked around. 
Individuals who merely stand up for the right to live as a first-class 
human being often confront bombings and sometimes are brutally 
shot down on their feet. We have a long, long way to go. 

Even in the area of registration and voting, we have a long, long 
way to go. Conniving methods are still being used in many of the 
counties in the Deep South to keep Negroes from becoming 
registered voters. Often questions are asked, from those technical 
questions that even a Ph.D., or the best-trained lawyer can't 
answer, to the even more technical question of how many bubbles 
do you find in a bar of soap. We have a long, long way to go. 

Even in the area of economic justice we have a long, long way to 
go. We've come a long, long way, as I just said, but we must still face 
the fact that 43 percent of the Negro families of America still make 
less than $2,000 a year, while just 17 percent of the white families 
of America make less than $2,000; 21 percent of the Negro families 
make less than $1,000 a year, while just seven percent of the white 
families of America make less than $1,000 a year; 88 percent of the 
Negro families of America make less than $5,000 a year, while just 
60 percent of the white families of America make less than $5,000 
a year. To put it another way, just 12 percent of the Negro families 
of America make $5,000 a year or more, while 40 percent of the 
white families of America make $5,000 a year or more. So even in 
the area of economic justice, we have a long, long way to go. 


"Room in the Inn" 

And more than anything else, segregation is still a fact in America. 
We have a long, long way to go to conquer segregation itself. It still 
exists in the South in its glaring and conspicuous form. We still 
confront it in the North, in its hidden and subtle form. Now, as I 
implied just a few minutes ago, figuratively speaking, Old Man 
Segregation is on his deathbed, but history has proven that social 
systems have a great last minute breathing power. And the 
guardians of the status quo are always on hand with the oxygen 
tents to keep the old order alive. And so, segregation is still with us, 
and there are those who are resisting at ever^' point to keep this 
system of segregation alive. But as we assemble here this evening, 
we assemble, I am sure, with the knowledge that if democracy is to 
live, segregation must die. 

Segregation is a cancer in the body politic, which must be removed 
before our democratic health can be realized. We must come to see 
the underlying philosophy of segregation is diametrically opposed to 
the underlying philosophy of democracy and Christianity, and all 
the dialectics of theologians cannot make them lie down together. 
Segregation is a blatant evil. It is against even,' thing that the 
Christian religion stands for, for it substitutes the hit relationship 
for the I:Thou relationship. It relegates the segregated to the status 
of a thing, rather than elevat[ing] them to the status of a person. 
And there is something deep down within our Christian religion 
that says all men are made in the image of God. 

There is something deep down within our Christian religion which 
cries out across the generations: In Christ there is neither Jew nor 
Gentile, bound nor free, male nor female, yes, Negro nor white. But 
we're all one in Christ Jesus. There is something deep down m our 
faith which says our one Lord God made all men to dwell upon the 
face of the earth. There is something in our democratic creed which 
says all men are created equal, and I'm endowed by that Creator 
with certain inalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and 
the pursuit of happiness. And segregation ignores all of these things; 


therefore, it is an evil which must be removed before our 
democratic health can be reaUzed. 

So the job ahead is to work hard, all people of good will, to remove 
this evil which stands in our society. It is hurting us internationally, 
and I will not go into that. For as we look at the role and tide of 
world opinion, we come to see that the civil rights issue is not some 
ephemeral, effervescent domestic issue which can be kicked around 
by reactionary politicians. But it is an eternal moral issue, which 
may well determine the destiny of our nation in the ideological 
struggle with communism. The hour is late. The clock of destiny is 
ticking out. We must act now before it is too late. The motor is now 
cranked up. We are moving up the highway of freedom toward the 
city of equality, and we can't afford to slow up, because our nation 
has a date with destiny. We must keep moving. 

There are those who are saying, yes, we've got to apply moderation. 
We've got to adopt a policy of moderation. Well, if moderation 
means moving on towards the goal of justice with wise restraint and 
calm reasonableness, then moderation is a great virtue that all men 
of good will must seek to achieve in this tense period of transition. 
But if moderation means slowing up in the move for justice and 
capitulating to the whims and caprices of the guardians of the 
deadly status quo, then moderation is a tragic vice, which all men 
of good will must condemn. We must keep moving because the hour 
is late. Our nation is now on trial. 

I want to say to you just a few things that we must do to go this 
additional distance. And I want to say a few things that we, as 
Negroes, can do. I know that other agencies must be at work. 
There's a great job for the federal government to do. I wish I had 
time to go into that. There's a great job that the Christian church 
must do. I wish I had time to go into that. But we know all too well 
that the Christian churches too often have a high blood pressure of 
creeds and an anemia of deeds. 


"RooTn in the Inn" 

We had to face the tragic facts for so long, that Sunday morning 
when we stood to sing "In Christ There Is No East Or West," we 
stood in the most segregated hour of Christian America. And thank 
God we're beginning now to shake the lethargy from our eyes, and 
Christian ministers all over the South and all over this nation are 
taking stands now. Thank God for that. And the church must 
continue to act. 

Oh, there're things that white persons of good will can do, both 
North and South, and I wish I had time to go into that, because I 
believe firmly that there are many more white persons of good will 
in our Southland than we're able to see on the surface. There are 
some in Montgomery, Alabama. Don't you think all of the white 
persons in the South believe in segregation. And then there are 
some who believe in segregation. They were brought up under the 
system. They were taught that in their school books. They were 
taught that by their parents, and it's understandable why they 
believe in segregation. But even though they sincerely believe that 
integration is wrong, they at least believe in law and order. They 
don't believe in physical violence. And I think we have great things 
to work on in the Southland. I do not think that the [James O.] 
Eastlands [Mississippi senator, 1941-78] and the [Herman] 
Talmadges [Georgia senator, 1957-81]. ..voice the sentiment of the 
southern white person. I don't think they voice the sentiments of 
all. They voice the sentiments of a vocal but small minority. I feel 
that a person like Lillian Smith of Georgia [writer sympathetic to 
harmonious race relations and author of Strange Fruit, a 1944 novel 
about an interracial love affair], [Harry S.] Ashmore of Arkansas [an 
editorial journalist], Frank [Porter] Graham of North Carolina 
[University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill president 1931-49, who 
ran for the North Carolina Senate in 1950 and lost], even Dr. Billy 
Graham of North Carolina, and hundreds and thousands of white 
persons of good will are voicing the sentiments of millions of white 
persons. And so, let us see the road in the white South. And I 
believe that there are millions of liberals in our Southland, and I 


appeal to them in the name of God, and for the cause of human 
dignity, and in the interest of democracy, to join hands and gird 
their courage and take a stand now, because this is the hour to do 

Above all of that, above and beyond all of that, there are some 
things that we must do. And that's what I want to deal with in the 
next few minutes before us. Things that we must do to go this 
additional distance, if we are to achieve first-class citizenship in this 
hour. We must maintain a continual sense of dignity and self- 
respect. Let nobody make you feel that you're inferior. Feel 
somehow that you are somebody. And although you have to live 
under a system which stares you in the face and says, "You are less 
than; you're not equal to," live in the midst of that system and 
affirm your own sense of dignity by saying deep down in your heart, 
"I am somebody. I am somebody. I am somebody because I'm a child 
of God. He is my father, and he loves all of his children, and if I'm 
his child, he loves me just as he loves other children." And 
maintain a continuing sense of dignity, and never become a slave in 
your mind. 

You see, one can be mentally free while physically enslaved. I've 
never been on the back of the bus. I came up in Atlanta, Georgia. 
I went to school on the other side of town. There was only one 
[Negro] high school in Atlanta. I never will forget the experiences 
that I had, a city of almost 200,000 Negroes, and they only had one 
high school at that time, but there's more now. But that was back in 
1942 and [194]3 and [194]4. I remember every day having to ride 
the buses from one side of town to the other to get to school. Those 
buses were segregated. We had to sit on the back, but I'm here to 
tell you this evening that I never took a seat on the back of the 
buses. I was only there physically, but my mind was up on the front. 
Always there. And I said to myself at that hour, "One of these days, 
my body's going to be up there where my mind is." So let us 


'Room in the Inn" 

maintain a continuing sense of dignity. Let us never feel that we are 

You know the job that Moses confronted when he was trying to lead 
the children ot Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land? He had 
some people there, and three groups developed. You noticed that. 
Many of you, I'm sure have seen the picture of the Ten 
Commanidments, and it's there, you can see it in that picture, and 
you see it as you read the Bible. Three groups developed, and this is 
always a problem in going up freedom's road. You have a certain 
group of people who became so conditioned to Egypt. See, you can 
become so conditioned to certain things, that you. ..even if you get 
to freedom, you'll still act like you used to act. That's possible. You 
just become so conditioned. And Moses had that group to deal 
with. They wanted to go back to Egypt. They said, now, we prefer 
the flush parts of Egypt to being out here in the wilderness, trying 
to get to the Promised Land. 

You know there are some Negroes like that. They have come to the 
point that they just like segregation. They feel that that's just what 
they deserve. I was in the Atlanta airport the other day and we 
were. ..I was standing there, so there was a little time waiting 
between flights. I went in the men's room, and there was a Negro 
attendant in there. And I just went on into the room which said 
"Men" there. I saw over there they had one that said "Colored," 
that said "Colored Men," but I just decided I was a man, and I 
decided I was going in the men's room. I went on in, and this 
attendant in there came running to me, and said, "The Colored 
room is over there." I didn't pay any attention to him. "Mister, the 
Colored room is over there. This is the White room here." So I got 
tired of him pushing on me and punching me, and said, "Ah, sir, I'm 
all right." Now mark you, the white people in there, it was full of 
white people, they hadn't said one thing to me. It was the Negro. 
So I stopped and said, "Brother, do you mean to tell me every time 


you find it necessary to go to the restroom, you go out of here and 
go way over there to the Colored room?" "Well, yes sir. That's where 
we belong." 

Now I first reacted with a little bitterness, but then I understood. I 
became very sympathetic. That man had come up under the system, 
and he had come to believe that Negroes didn't deserve anything 
else. There was a place and things were to be separated, and the 
system had done that. That's what segregation does. There is the 
danger that segregation will give you the sense of inferiority, and so 
you feel that this is what you deserve and this is where you belong. 
And that's what the Supreme Court decision tried to cure. That's 
one of the things that it said, that segregation gives a sense of 
inferiority to the segregated. But I am urging you this evening to 
maintain a sense of self-respect. That was one group that Moses had 
to confront, that group that preferred Egypt to the Promised Land. 

Then he had a second group. They were the schoolteachers and the 
people who really wanted freedom, but they didn't want to face the 
sacrifices that were involved in it. They were always talking about, 
"I might lose my job if I try to go on to the Promised Land." Now 
they wanted freedom; they wanted it. They wanted freedom. They 
wanted to enjoy freedom, but they didn't want to face the sacrifices 
involved in gaining freedom. Moses had to deal with that group. 
That group of fearful persons. That group of individuals who, 
because they were in partially vulnerable positions, they used that 
as an excuse for complacency. 

Then he had a third group, and that's a group that. ..there's always a 
group that carries history on. And he had a group of people who 
were willing to go on, in spite of the odds, in spite of the difficulties. 
They knew the mountains, the obstacles ahead, but they said, 
"We're going on. We're going on with you, Moses. And we are 
willing to face anything, because we know that our destiny is in the 
Promised Land." 


"Room in the Inn" 

Let us not tit into the group that wanted to go hack to Egypt. Let us 
not become a part of that group that is somehow Uving in a state of 
fear, afraid to act, accepting things that one does not have to 
accept. But let us get in Hne with that third group, and maintain a 
continuing sense of self-respect. 

Let me rush on to say that we must seek to gain the respect of others 
by improving our own standards. I don't want to stay on this too 
long, and I know the danger of what I'm about to say, because it can 
be misinterpreted. And let me rush on to say that some of our 
standards lag behind, we must admit. They lag behind because of 
segregation. I'm convinced of that. I think it is a tortuous logic, to 
use the tragic effects of segregation as an argument for the 
continuation ot it. A man told me in Montgomer^s Alabama, that 
integration is all right, but it needs to be put off about 75 years, 
because Negroes aren't ready culturally and academically, and 
they'll pull the white race back a generation. And my answer to him 
was that certainly that isn't true. You can't say that's true of all 
Negroes. The second thing is that these conditions exist because of 
segregation, and the thing to do is to remove the cause. Don't be 
dealing.. .only with the effects, but go on down and remove the 
cause. Don't just give an aspirin here, but go on down to the surgical 
point and get to the cause of the thing. 

But we have to admit, we have to admit that at points our standards 
do lag behind. And we need to work on these things, as we work to 
remove the cause. We have a dual responsibility. We must work to 
remove the basic cause of all of our problems, our economic 
insecurity, our cultural lag, our health lag, and all of that. And at 
the same time, we must work to improve these effects that have 
come into being as a result of segregation. Now we just have to face 
it. We kill each other too much. We have to face that. We have to 
face that. Our crime rates are still too high. We've got to face that. 
And we've got to improve on that. We must face the fact that there 
are so many areas and there are so many things that we can do. And 


let us start now and sit down by the wayside and pull down the 
curtains of our lives, and the shades, and look at ourselves and say, 
"Can we improve ourselves here?" Look at the complaints that 
many of the white reactionaries have against us, and remove those 
that don't make any sense. If they aren't true, well, just push them 
aside. They say we want to be integrated because we want to marry 
their daughters. Well, we know that isn't true. We know that isn't 
true. The Negro's concern basically isn't to be the white man's 
brother-in-law, but to be his brother. We know that's true. 

But there are other things that are said, and if they are true, let's do 
something about it. It our health standards lag behind, let's do 
something about them. Oh, it may not be possible for us to take a 
flight tomorrow morning and fly over to Paris and buy the most 
expensive perfumes, but all of us can be clean. Anybody can buy a 
nickel bar of soap.... 

Let us improve our moral standards. We don't have to have the 
highest illegitimacy rate in every city. We don't need to do it. We 
don't have to have a Ph.D. ...or an M.A. degree or an A.B. degree. 
We don't have to have a lot of money to be good and honest and 
moral and upright. We must convince the white man that if we 
walk the streets, we're not walking around thinking about sex every 
day, for we know that we are made for eternity, created for the 
everlasting, born for the stars. That is something deep down within 
us that gives us a sense of our own moral integrity and well being. 
And where we don't have it, let us improve it. Let us 
demand... respect from others by improving our own standards 
where they can be improved, so that we deal with this. 

And let us continue to gain the ballot, gain political power through 
wise use of the ballot. Now I'm not here to tell you how to vote. 
That isn't my concern. I'm not a politician. I have no political 
ambitions. I don't think the Republican Party is a party full of the 
Almighty God, nor is the Democratic Party. They both have 


"Room in the Inn" 

weaknesses. And I'm not inextricably bound to either party. I'm not 
concerned about telling you what party to vote for. But what I'm 
saying is this: That we must gain the ballot and use it wisely. I've 
come to see recently that one of the most decisive steps that the 
Negro can take is that short walk to the voting booth. And don't 
put it all on resistance. It's true that in many areas in my state of 
Alabama Negroes aren't registered in many instances because they 
can't register because the resistance is strong. Because the registrars 
refuse to register them. But I don't think that's true in Greensboro, 
North Carolina. Many Negroes aren't registered because they're too 
lazy to go down and get registered. And you have here, and we have 
in many cities all over the South, the opportunity to gain the ballot. 
And even where we have strong resistance we have a Civil Rights 
Bill, now, which I hope will help us a great deal. So let us go out to 
gain the ballot and to use it wisely. 

And let us continue to give big money for the cause of freedom. 
Integration is not some lavish dish that will be passed out by the 
white man on a silver platter while the Negro merely furnishes the 
appetite. We've got to do more than that. We've got to sacrifice, 
and we're going to have to give some money. The days ahead are 
still days of difficulty. We still have a long, long way to go. And let 
us use our money wisely. We can't say any longer that we don't have 
it. I just mentioned a few minutes ago that we have an annual 
income now of almost $17 billion a year. And we get almost 
everything else we want. We ride around in some of the biggest cars 
that have ever been let loose into history. And I'm not condemning 
this. I know how it is. I know... we want to have some of the basic 
goods of life. We want to have some of the luxuries of life. But what 
I'm saying is, let's maintain a sense of values. 

We don't have time to spend a lot of money on whiskey and big 
parties and a lot of stuff, and we aren't giving money to the basic 
causes that confront us now. It will be an indictment on the Negro 
if it is revealed that we spend more money on frivolities than we 


spend on the cause of freedom and justice. And I've been in 
situations.. .I've seen us in many of our social groups, our fraternities 
and our Masonic and our Elks and what have you, spending more 
money on frivolities than we spend on the cause of freedom and 
justice. I remember one year that a certain fraternity assembled 
with other fraternities and spent in one week $500,000 [sic] on 
whiskey. That's what the paper reported. Negroes spend more 
money in one week, just a handful, in one week than the whole 
Negro race spent that whole year for the NAACP and the United 
Negro College Fund. Now that's tragic. That's tragic, my friends. 
We've got to get a sense of values. 

Now you don't like some of these things I'm saying. You're not 
saying amen too much right through in here, but I'm saying things 
that 1 think are basic for us. Things that are basic. Not only that, 
we must continue to develop wise, courageous, and sincere 
leadership. This is a need all over the South and all over the nation. 
We need leaders who are sincere. Leaders of integrity. Leaders who 
are intelligent. Leaders who [avoid] the extremes of hot- 
headedness and Uncle Tomism. Leaders who somehow have the 
vision to see the issues and have the courage to stand there. Leaders 
not in love with money, but in love with humanity. Leaders not in 
love with publicity, but in love with justice. Oh, this is the great 
need of this hour. As I look out... over our nation, God has given 
many of you talent. God has given many of you economic 
resources, and he's given you educational resources. And this is the 
challenge and an opportunity of the hour to use these things to 
furnish leadership for our nation in this hour. Let none of us 
become so high on the intellectual, the economic ladder, or any of 
these particular ladders, that we become separated from the 
problems that the masses of people confront. Let us discover that 
we will never get into the Promised Land until all of us get there 


'Room in the Inn" 

And oh, we need leaders at this hour all over this nation. God, give 
us leaders! A time like this demands great leaders. Leaders whom 
the lust of office does not kill. Leaders whom the spoils of life 
cannot buy. Leaders who have armor. Leaders who will not lie. And 
leaders who can stand before [a] demagogue and damn his 
treacherous flatteries without winking [sic]. Tall leaders, sun 
crowned, who live above the fog in public duty and in private 
thinking. That is one of our great needs, as we go on this additional 

I'm coming now to the conclusion. But before ending, I want to say 
one basic thing to you. Let us, as we move on, continue to struggle 
with the weapons of love and nonviolence. We must work 
passionately and unrelentingly for first-class citizenship, but let us 
not use second-class methods to gain it. That is the danger. 

As I look over the long and broad struggle of oppressed people, it 
seems to me that there are three ways for oppressed people to deal 
with their oppression, and I want to ask you to choose one of them 
tonight, and I hope you will choose the right one. One is to rise up 
against your oppressor with hate and physical violence, and to break 
loose from oppression through armed revolt. This is a method that 
we all know about. Those of us who live in America know about it. 
It has become something of the inseparable twin of Western 
Imperialism. It is even the hallmark of its grandeur. We know about 
it. And I'm not here to say to you tonight that victories can't be 
won through violence. If a person says that victory has never been 
won through violence, he doesn't know history. Nations have 
received their independence through violence. I know that. But 
that is the problem. 

Violence only brings about temporary victories, never permanent 
peace. We're coming to see in our world today the futility of 
violence, not only in the racial struggle, but in the international 


struggle. It is no longer the choice between violence and 
nonviolence. It is today nonviolence or nonexistence. In a day 
when Sputniks and Explorers dash around outer space, nobody can 
win a war. We must come to see now that violence is not the way. 
If [the] Negro succumbs to the temptation of using violence in the 
struggle, unborn generations would be the recipients of a long and 
desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to the future would 
be an endless reign of meaningless chaos. There is still a voice 
crying through the vista of time, saying.. .to put up your sword. 
History is replete with the bleached bones of nation. The way that 
I discussed a little earlier, that is through acquiescence or 
resignation. Just resign yourself to the fate of repression. People 
have done that. They just accept it, and they resign themselves to 
it, and they adjust to it. There again, that isn't the way. 

Noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is 
cooperation with good. And if somehow I accept segregation 
without letting the segregator know that I don't like it, I'm 
cooperating with him. And I'm just as evil in doing that as he is in 
carrying on the system. For the religion says to every man that you 
are your brother's keeper. And if I make my brother think that I like 
segregation when I don't really like it, if I tell him that I like the 
way I'm treated when I don't really like it, I'm not his keeper, for I 
cooperate with him in evil. So the way is not to acquiesce and 
resign oneself to the fate of oppression. 

So we come to a third way, and that is a way of nonviolent 
resistance. Where we resist, and yet we do it through nonviolent 
means. We stand up with a powerful "no" to injustice, but with a 
powerful "yes" to brotherhood and love. It seems to me that this is 
the way that all over we must organize, nonviolently, en masse, to 
resist the system of segregation, but at the same time we must 
maintain love in our hearts, and we must move with the method of 
nonviolence. If we will do that, I think we will be able to transform 


"Room in the Inn" 

a dark night into a glowing daybreak. I think we will be able to 
make of this old world a new world. Somehow we must be able to 
look our southern brothers in the eye, and those who would 
mistreat us, and those who would misuse us, and believe that 
unearned suffering is redeeming. 

Let us, if it's necessary, be the victims of violence but never the 
perpetrators of violence. And then we will be able to stand before 
our brothers in the South and say, "We will match your capacity to 
inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet 
your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we 
will still love you. Bum our homes, and we'll still love you. Send 
your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the 
midnight hours and take us out on some wayside road and beat us 
and leave us there, half dead, and we will still love you. Run all 
around the country and make it appear that we're not fit morally 
and culturally for integration, and we will still love you. Take our 
children and spit in their faces and slap them if you may, and we 
will still love you." So this, it seems to me, is a way that's open for 

And I give you a personal testimony of my own faith. I believe, my 
friends, as I leave Greensboro, that we're going, we're going, we're 
going to do this. We will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. 
And then one day we will win our freedom, but not only will we 
win our freedom, we will so appeal to your heart and conscience 
that we will win you in the process. And our victory will be 



C . Eric Lincoln 

Professor of Religion and Culture , Duke University 

Delivered at the Annie Merner Pfeiffer Chapel 

Bennett College 

January 18, 1981 

wo hundred years ago, the American founding fathers gave to 
the world "a new nation, conceived in Uberty, and dedicated to 
^the proposition that all men are created equal." They also laid 
it down in the record of establishment that every man was endowed 
by his Creator with certain "inalienable rights," among which were 
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Two long centuries have 
come, and two long centuries have gone, and we who now stand 
trembling in the room they left search frantically for some clue that 
the legacy bequeathed to us is possible of social and political 

In our confusion and our doubt we may be cheered from time to 
time by the recollection that we had our beginnings in a 
commitment to a moral and religious perfection rather than in the 

pragmatics of politics; and that the pre-eminent American heritage 
is the errand into the wilderness which brought the courage and the 
zeal and the ethic of Protestantism to the bleak shores of 
Massachusetts Bay; and that while the Protestant commitment did 
indeed embrace the notion of empire, what they had intended was 
a righteous empire - a city to be set on a hill, as it were, to be the 
model of faith and practice for all men and all time to come. So 
pervasive and so enduring has been this notion of American 
religious and moral manifest destiny that fully 300 years after it was 
first voiced, an American President, Mr. Woodrow Wilson, could 
announce without a trace of a blush that "America was born a 
Christian nation for the purpose of exemplifying to the nations of 
the world the principles of righteousness found in the word of God." 

Today we are somewhat less certain and we have sufficient reason to 
be. As we move on into the third century of our nationhood "under 
God," the drums of celebration are muted, and the banners 
proclaiming our national greatness hang limp for want of a fair 
breeze of conviction. The sober-minded turn to introspection and 
those who believe in the righteousness of God tremble in the 
anticipation of his justice. 

We ask ourselves: What happened to the promise that was 
America? Seldom indeed in the annals of human history has a 
nation been born under such auspicious circumstances, with so 
many mature and able statesmen attending her birth. Never before 
in modern times has a nation been so certain of the sure hand of 
God on the tiller of its destiny, or committed itself so irrevocably to 
divine hegemony and precept. And never has any nation found 
itself in such wretched default of its own avowed principles before 
the words of our founding document were fairly formed, or the ink 
was dry on the parchment. And therein lies the genesis of our 
continuing dilemma, or national sickness. 


"Come Back, Martin Luther King" 

We have been talking about the symptoms of a disease and not the 
disease itself. We know too well the cultural nostrums with which 
we have dosed ourselves against the painful recognition of how sick 
we really are. We have demeaned intelligence and prostituted 
communication in tacit avoidance of the issue we recognize to be 
the root cause ot our national malaise. It is time now to face the 
issue squarely, confront the truth and be cleansed of the pollution of 

In the language of the faith we claim to cherish, America has sinned 
- mightily, consistently, and with conscious deliberation. Our 
cardinal sin is idolatry - corporate racial idolatry'. This is our 
national disease. And from this malignancy there oozes a corruption 
which poisons everything it touches: the schools, the churches, the 
courts, the military, the places where we work, the communities 
where we live, our politics, our economics - every level of social and 
personal intercourse. Racism is our common sickness and our 
common legacy. It is endemic to the culture and so pervasive that 
there are no islands of immunity, or varying degrees of malignancy. 

The congenital pus that infects the one of us affects the other. 
Everyday of our lives we must deal with hate and with the hate that 
hate produced. Every hour of the day we are conditioned by fear 
that produces fear that produces fear, our mutual hatred and our 
mutual fear our common resort to somehow be vindicated by some 
divine substantiation, the shadowy myths we have elected to live 
by. Yet, we know in our hearts that God will not be mocked, even 
as we know that in the deliberate disregard of the implications of 
our brotherhood we reject the implications of his common 
fatherhood. The wanton distortion of history, the arbitrary 
devaluation of human life, the cheap retreat from spiritual and 
political responsibility create no options for divine rescue. They do 
invite God's scrutiny and God's judgment. 


Racism is our shibboleth. It is the sign and symbol by which we are 
known and remembered around the world for this civilization 
cursed itself long before it became a nation. The white men and 
women who founded it with such high purpose let that purpose be 
demeaned by the enslavement of those black men and women 
called to maintain and develop what they had founded. Clearly, no 
Christian community worthy of the name can be built on the 
bondage and oppression of one brother by another, whether with 
chains or whether with laws; or whether with the fetters of 
ignorance, mysteries of doctrine, the logic of power. So it was that 
the political experiment in the West addressed itself to failure 
before it was scarcely begun. But God is gracious and though man 
is weak he is still the subject of God's love and redemption. Man is 
a creature of free will, and if he is able to make the conscious 
decisions which promote evil then he can make a conscious 
decision to undo that evil. God will not have it any other way. Man 
cannot have it any other way. 

Three times since this land was first cursed by man's refusal to face 
his Father and acknowledge his brother, an historic occasion to 
relent, to repent and accept redemption, has been granted to 
America. The first was at the very birth of the nation, the 
bicentennial of which has but recently consigned itself to history. 
At the birth of this nation the statesmen were both eloquent and 
profuse in their denouncements of the British King for allegedly 
forcing upon the colonies that peculiar institution they so readily 
elected to take with them into nationhood. The choice ought to 
have been to use the occasion of newly won autonomy to gratefully 
restore their own integrity, so willfully compromised for 150 years, 
by restoring freedom and dignity to the captives they held 
enthralled. The insistent rhetoric about liberty and freedom and 
justice, and the pious commitment to nationhood under God, rang 
hollow against the pitiful cries of the slaves whose freedom never 
reached the agenda of deliberation. 


"Come Back, Martin Luther King" 

White men, Black men fought and died 

That all men might be free 

But when the fighting was all done 

And when the victory was won 

Who gained the jubilee? 

Who gained the jubilee? 

The whites who lived 

The blacks who died 

Were set at liberty. 

Thus did this nation repudiate an extraordinary opportunity to 
cleanse itself and get on with the business of a righteous empire in 
the West. And thus did the nation indulge at the outset a delusion 
which has remained for it a continumg dilemma - the fantasy that 
a Christian democracy can rest securely on a doctrine of equality 
and the practice of inequality - by race; a doctrine patently in 
contradiction to itself, and to every^ recognized principle ot human 

The Civil War was fought mainly over issues tangential to what had 
finally come to be recognized as the problem most critical to 
American peace and prosperity, the continuance of human slavery. 
But the Civil War represented a second national occasion for the 
reconstruction of the American understanding of a right 
relationship to God and man, and the institutionalization of 
appropriate attitudes and behavior. Again, we defaulted. The war 
was fought; the slaves were freed: the mentality that made slavery 
possible remained intact. In time it would spread, adapting itself to 
new requirements of respectability. The mentality itself had never 
been restricted to any single region of the country, although its 
expression and its intensity did vary with the economic and social 
requirements of those who harboured it. It was a way of seeing 
things; a perspective on reality; a world view parochialized by an 
inordinate preoccupation with the accidents of color. A hundred 


years later, in a spasm of fear and outrage the cosmetics of 
respectability would, for an ugly and perilous interlude, be 
forgotten, and "civilized America would be turned back toward a 
state of nature." We could have anticipated the seizure and prepared 
for it. Instead, we prepared to deal with the symptoms instead of the 
disease, as we have always been wont to do. 

At about the time the staging for the World War II holocaust was 
being completed and the players had taken their stations behind the 
doubtful curtain of international diplomacy, perhaps, with some 
premonition of how changed the world would be when the war was 
over, America had become increasingly apprehensive about how 
well or how ill we were managing our moral and political 
contradictions at home. Accordingly, we called in Gunnar Myrdal, 
a respected social scientist from Sweden, who after several years of 
reading the statistics and scouting the country to observe the 
American way first hand, advised us in a lengthy compendium that 
America had a problem. He called it the "Negro problem." The 
problem created a dilemma. He called it the "American dilemma," 
and this is what he said about it: 

The American Negro problem is a problem in the heart 
of America.... It is there that the decisive struggle goes 
on... "The American Dilemma".... is the ever- raging 
conflict between. ..the valuations (of)... the American 
creed," where the American thinks, talks and acts under 
the influence of high national and Christian precepts, 
and on the other hand the valuations on specific planes 
of individual and group living. Where personal and local 
interests, economic, social and sexual jealousies... and all 
sorts of miscellaneous wants, impulses and habits 
dominate his outlook. 


"Come Back, Martin Luther King" 

This "problem in the heart of America" is no less persistent now 
than when Myrdal set out to document it thirty years ago. It may be 
less obvious and therefore less imperative, but its effects on all 
classes of Americans remain the same. Perhaps from the pragmatic 
perspective of the social sciences, it is indeed a "Negro problem," as 
Myrdal declared it to be, but it has always seemed to me to be rather 
a problem ot moral and social deficiencies in the ability to assess 
realistically the value of the self, and to relate that assessment to an 
adequate valuation of others. The derivative dilemma is the 
inconsistency between the criteria of valuation, and the 
irreconcilability of what we claim to be and what we are. 

In any case, Dr. Myrdal told us little we did not know already. In 
the final analysis, his documentation of the American dilemma, 
like many other "studies" of American behavior, had principally a 
cathartic effect - born of the age-old illusion that in studying the 
problem we had done something about it. 

In the aftermath of war many of the conventions the world had 
lived by were suddenly obsolete. In Africa, in colonial Asia, in the 
United States, there was revolutionary spirit abroad which 
threatened to delay indefinitely the return to normalcy and business 
as usual. The world as it was before the Hitlerian era would never 
be reconstructed. For us at home, the possibility that the blood we 
left on the beaches of Europe and the atolls of the Pacific would be 
replicated on the streets of New York and Chicago and Atlanta 
became the pre-eminent concern of the guardians of the 
establishment. The military was alerted; the federal agencies of 
intelligence and investigation were staked-out among the citizens. 
New "reception centers" were secretly prepared for the disaffected; 
and an amazing array of mobile armor and sophisticated weaponry 
was purchased at great cost by the local governments to use against 
some mysterious "enemy" who was never identified. We were all on 
the way to a solution of the problem by the only means in which we 


seem to have confidence - extermination. If it worked against the 
Indians, why wouldn't it settle the "Negro problem" once and for 

It was at this juncture that for the third time in our national 
existence Divine Providence offered a way out - a higher way in 
perfect consonance with all our professions of Christian love and 
brotherhood in a just and humane society. From the legions of the 
disinherited God raised a prophet, a black man, who had known the 
jackboot of oppression, but whose chosen response was a gospel of 
love. He was a lowly man, humble, but full of hope; sagacious, but 
full of dreams - dreams for the future of America, the country he 
loved and longed to see put right. His name was Martin Luther 
King, Jr. He came teaching peace, preaching forgiveness, and 
showing by precept his own full commitment to all he asked 
America to do. He came neither to the Jews, nor yet to the Gentiles 
but to all who stand in the fear of judgment, saying, "This is the 
way." Wherever he went those who had reached the end of their 
endurance found new strength; and those who had so lately given 
themselves to violence on behalf of their country laid down their 
arms and occupied the violence heaped upon them at the hands of 
their countrymen. In simple faith and hope and prayer they 
sustained each other, those who abused them were confounded by 
the peace they knew as they offered their bodies to be brutalized, 
and their lives to be a symbol of their determination that men 
among men should be men, and so received. Black and white they 
were. Men and women of all faiths bound by the common faith that 
"we shall overcome." And so they marched 'til convulsed by the 
enormity of their own behavior, the agents of the prevailing social 
sentiment finally leashed their attack dogs, sheathed their electric 
cattle prods, turned in their riot guns and retired from public view. 

The tragedy is, the continuing dilemma is, that neither the agents 
of the law nor the principals they represented have ever retired 


"Come Back, Martin Luther King" 

from the conviction that whoever is black is an interloper in a 
world intended to he white. Yet, the social conventions which had 
for so long demeaned and [compromised] the dignity of black 
people had been publicly shattered and broken in the dust. Black 
and white together, one unity of believers in the fatherhood of God 
and the brotherhood of man, had brought America, first kicking 
and screaming, and finally in a sullen compliance to the ver>' edge 
of the fountain of redemption. But America has always balked at 
the final moment of truth about racial matters. Once again, she saw 
the waters and drank not thereof. 

We did not overcome. We have not overcome. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. is dead, a target of hatred he struggled to 
displace with love, a statistic of violence he tried to teach America 
to abjure. His memory is enshrined in the hearts of all those 
touched by his sacrifice and encouraged by his dream, but his 
doctrine has already faded from the working agendas o( social 
change. He stands to be relegated in time to the category of a "great 
Negro leader," and given his assigned place in the doubtful 
Parthenon of "Negro achievement." This is America's highest 
tribute to her sons and daughters who are black. That is the only 
recognition America knows how to give. But how different from 
what Martin Luther King, Jr. gave to America - the 
unconditioned, unrestricted opportunity to redeem itself, to 
regenerate itself, to free itself finally of the enormous burden of 
living a lie, in conflict with its own ideals. 

The wheel turns, and we move on down the road toward a fate that 
is predictable. The minions we pay to preserve our narcosis beguile 
us with examples of progress and statistics of achievement, all safely 
within the parameters of pre-determined change. But in the streets 
is the sound and the fury of the status quo ante, and in the faces of 
people we see the old hatreds, the old doubts, the old 


determinations. And we know intuitively as we know experientially 
that the only real change is the date on the calendar. 

Hear the words of Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, president of 
Notre Dame, as he comments on the status of our national 

The fast pace of progress in the sixties was slowed in the 
seventies.... New banners of ethnicity were waved; 
idealism was replaced by political pragmatism; leaders 
followed instead of leading; the slowdown and the 
slipback began, led by the most powerful officials in the 
land.... We have come down from a high peak in our 
history and are presently in a valley.... Yet, with all the 
burden of ingrained prejudice and hatred, I believe that 
our age more than any age, knows that this is wrong. 

Yes, we know. And in knowing we have abused the patience of God 
even as we have ignored the lessons of history. How long? How long 
can a nation deceive itself? I hear the litanies of peace, but peace is 
far from us. The theologies of hope abound, but any theology not 
addressed to the relevant, critical experiences of the people is an 
irreverent shimmer of tinsel that demeans the holy event. What is 
our hope? What is our promise? The people wait in doubt and 
confusion for lack of some clarifying word, some hope for a change 
that is real. 

We turn again to the memory of Martin Luther King, whose life was 
itself the clearest expression of what America claimed to be but 
never was. We look again at the America he knew and the America 
he dreamed about, and because we share his dreams we wish that 
somehow he could be here now, alas! not to see those dreams 
fulfilled, for that is a long way off, but to bring us together again and 
to revive us in the continuing struggle toward the realization of 
what he dreamed about. 


"Come Back, Martin Luther King" 

Come back, Martin Luther King 

Pray with me, and hold my hand 

and help me still 

the turbulence 

the agitation that shakes me 

when 1 walk the streets 

of Boston 

where once you drew your 


O see how quickly there 
the people have forgot. 

Do you hear 

the mothers in the street? 

Hail Mary! 

Hail Mary! 

Burn the buses! 

Kill the niggers! 

Hail Mary! 

Hail Mary! 

Hail Mary! 

Come back, Martin Luther King 

And teach us 

as once you taught us 

to forgive 

Teach us 

as once you taught us 

to endure. 

For we are not assured. 

The friends we used to know 

have long since quit the scene 

the responsible people 

the proper Bostonians 

whose names gild the log 

of the Mayflower 

are silent and remote 

in retirement from the cause. 

Who marched with you 

in Selma 

Keep to their tents 

in Boston 

Nor are their voices raised 

to quiet the weary tumult 

and give the people 


from the strife. 

Come back, Martin Luther King 

see how 

the famous churches 

see how 

the great cathedrals 

that once seized your public 


to gild their own pretensions 

are shuttered for want of a cause 

stand silent 

for want of a voice. 

Come back, Martin Luther King 

The dreamers you left with your 


Wake not to the task of 


The dream languishes 

The cock crows 

1 hear the tolling of bells 

There is no sound of trumpets! 

When shall we overcome? 
When shall we overcome? 

'Gunnar, Mydral, An American Dilemma, New York, 1962, p. 71. 
-The Hum^ine Imperative, New Haven, 1974.